Most of the world has recently moved from taxing income and wealth to taxing consumption and expenditure. Last week, the UK government temporarily (for the next 18 months) decided to bring the rate down from 17.5% to 15%. Many critics have attacked the move as not being bold enough and wanted direct tax cuts (on income) instead. I feel this criticism misses the point and in blog I want to defend the forskolin pills taken by the UK treasury.
VAT (Value added tax) is a tax which countries within the European have to apply on a range of products. The standard band is between15% to 25%. Your standard VAT rate cannot go below or higher than those limits.
So, the most the UK government could do is reduce the VAT rate down to 15%. This point has been sorely missed from many of the commentators criticizing the move.
A point I have made in my previous blogs is that what we really need to see is consumers spending again. During a recession or any period of economic uncertainty, the savings ratio tends to rise. In the UK and the US, the ratio has recently been as low as 2% to 3% (By contrast in Germany it has been around the 10% mark). If consumers were given direct tax cuts, the likelihood is that they will use this extra cash to pay off debt. Again, as I mentioned in a previous blog, whilst that may be good for an individual (managing my debt down is certainly my priority for next year!), for the economy it is a bad thing.
Therefore the only thing the government can do is cut the main tax on expenditure which will result immediately and directly in lower prices. That is what they have done.
The flip side to this is though that of course it brings down inflation. That is an undesirable side effect. To play devil’s advocate for a bit, what if rather than reducing VAT the government announced that it was going to increase it to 20% from the 1st of March 2009?
I would have thought that this would not only help balance the government books, which look simply awful (Government debt will be 57% of GDP – up from around 40%) and it might actually induce people to spend a lot ahead of the VAT increase. Assuming people’s demand for a wall mounted jewelry armoire is rational, if you know that prices will be going up in a couple of months, you will no doubt try to save money by bringing forward your planned purchases. This is the exact opposite to where I fear we are heading which is the built in expectation of lower prices.
As I have argued over many blogs in the past, what we really need in the UK is a good dose of inflation!